Russian environmentalists gather at Silver Saddle Ranch

Silver Saddle Ranch manager Mike Bailey rolled out the red carpet for an eight-member group of environmentalists and educators from Russia's Lake Baikal area Tuesday.

The Russians gathered with officials to swap ideas and technical information concerning a score of environmental issues.

One of the primary topics was creating the 1,500-mile Great Baikal Trail to promote ecotourism and recreation, plus the infrastructure to support them.

Baikal is the largest freshwater lake in the world. About 400 miles long and 80 miles wide, it holds 20 percent of world's fresh water and its watershed is the size of France.

The proposed trail would extend 1,500 miles around the lake, a parallel effort to the Tahoe Rim Trail.

Evgenny Maryasov is director of the Environmental School for Tourism and Ecological education in Northern Baikal. He said the economic situation is stabilizing in his country and environmental concerns have come to the fore, especially during last few years. Efforts to create the trail started about 30 years ago and 200 miles are completed.

"Difficulties with the economy left little time for trail making," Maryasov said through an interpreter. "People had to work all the time just to survive, but that is changing."

He came to the Baikal area about 25 years ago, working to build a railroad called the Baikal Amur Mainline and never left.

"People are starting to plan for the future and thinking about protecting the environment for the long term," he said. "Some people are getting richer and ultimately; they will be able to contribute to this cause."

"These are the warmest, friendliest and most dedicated people you could find anywhere," said Larry Randall, spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.

"They manage wildlife preserves, work as environmental educators and as tour operators and outfitting guides. For me, having them here is a real privilege, and it is our hope that they succeed in creating economies for ecotourism."

He said Baikal is due north of Mongolia, sparsely populated by Cossacks, Mongols and others.

About the size of Northern Nevada, the area is rich in minerals, but many Russian people do not want the area mined, Maryasov said.

He said he liked the parking arrangement at Davis Creek Park. It's simple, but new to these Russian environmentalists.

"We like what we see, what the Americans are doing," he said. "This is encouraging to us. We can do this, too."

For the past week, the group has visited campsites and trails in the Lake Tahoe region. They'll meet with U.S. Forest Service and national park officials today, then go to San Francisco, from where they will depart for Russia.


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